Friday, January 20, 2012

DIY Pinch Pleat Drapes - Measuring and Buying Fabric

Fantastic drapery can pull a whole room together, but so often it takes a backseat to our decisions about the seating and flooring for a room.  When a friend of mine declared that she had lived in her house for 20 years without any drapes on her windows, we decided to adorn her windows with custom pinch pleat curtains.  While the pinch pleat style dates back to decades ago, it is still one of the most common and classiest drapery techniques.  Whether you want dramatic modern chevrons, or traditional florals, custom DIY pinch pleat drapes add the dwelling perfection that would be the homemade envy of any Betty Draper.    

Today is the first of four DIY pinch pleat drape posts I am putting together that are full of all the tricks and tips I have learned from my experience.  There are many curtain DIY posts and videos out there, and they are certainly great, but for me, I wanted to share with you my whole curtain making process from conception to hanging and admiring.  Sewing professional drapes can be intimidating and time-consuming, so it is my goal to explain each detail, uncovering the challenge and encouraging you take the plunge into making your own custom drapes that look like a million bucks.  

Basic steps for any custom drapes:
1 - Survey your space and decide what style of drapery and rod will give you the impact and style you want for your room.
2 - Measure your wall and purchase fabric, drapery hardware, and supplies
3 - Hang hardware (you can wait and do this after sewing the drapes, but I have found that if you already know what hardware you want and where you want it to be, getting more accurate measurements with the hardware before sewing can be very beneficial) 
4 - Sew panels
5 - Finishing panels and hemming
6 - Hanging drapes and steaming

Choosing Fabric and Drapery Hardware:
For this project, my client's interior designer had previously chosen the rods and fabric to coordinate with the design of the rest of her house.  For her deep red and clean white dining room, that is full of large antique furniture and sophisticated gold and silver accents, he chose a multi-colored paisley that combines the right amount of tradition and charm.  The rods were solid wood with a gold paint finish and traditional finials.  

Even if traditional isn't your design style, the important take home tip about his choices are the scale and proportions.  The large and dramatic rods may seem a little over the top, but their drama at the top of the room balances out the heavy wood antiques at the bottom of the room.  A busy pattern fabric like this one added charm to the solid walls, solid furniture, and solid accessories often found in a dining space.  Also, I feel that the visual weight of the fabric was equal to the visual weight of dramatic rods, providing a balance.  Thin shears might look odd on this big rod, while thick velvet drapes might look odd on a super skinny rod.  If you don't have an interior designer, check out all the images on Pinterest for inspirations of rod styles and sizes that look great with the fabric patterns and colors you like.  At the end of the day, you have to love your choices, and they need to be a reflection of your style.  
When it comes to choosing what type of fabric you will use, the sky is the limit.  I don't follow any rules concerning textile types - creativity comes in choosing outside the box.  Just because it isn't in the drapery department of your fabric store doesn't mean it wouldn't make beautiful drapes.  I have used upholstery fabric to make a skirt and quilter's cottons to make moroccan poufs.  Unroll a couple yards of the fabric and hold it up high to make sure you are happy with the drape of the fabric, and then go for it.  Be daring, I love bold and dramatic drapes!
How much fabric do you need to buy?
This is the question that most people fret over, and I have to say, fretting over this number is justified because there are many factors you need to consider before the fabric is cut.  The beauty of custom drapes is that they really are custom, so while these are the 'rules of thumb' I follow, you can totally choose to do your own thing.

- How wide do you want your panels?  Textiles normally come in standard widths from 40" to 60" wide.  If you are making pinch pleat curtains, 10-12 pleats per panel are considered to be standard for normal windows.  My fabric was 55" wide, so to have enough fabric for this many pleats, each panel needed to be 1.5 widths of my fabric (82.5" wide per panel).  Make it easy for yourself, choose either 1, 1.5, or 2 widths for your panels (increments of 0.5 widths) because it is much easier to cut fabric in a half than in fourths.  Altering your number of pleats is a lot easier than dividing your fabric into all sorts of pieces.   

- If your panel will be wider than 1 width, then you need to think about your seam.  With my patterned fabric, I wanted the seam to be 'seamless' with all the patterns and colors matching perfectly.  To match patterns for your seam, you need to know the 'repeat' on your fabric; how many inches before the whole pattern repeats on the fabric.  My repeat was around 30", which meant that I had to buy extra fabric so that each panel was on the same repeat portion so the pattern matched up at the seam.  

- Extra fabric must be added to each panel for the top casing and the bottom hem.  My standard is to add 6 inches at the top and 6 inches at the bottom.  When I am actually sewing the panels, I may adjust this number, but always work within the total of 12 inches.  

- Also consider your drapery rod.  If you are hanging the drapes from the bottom of your rings you will need less fabric than if you are making a casing to go around the rod or adding grommets to thread the rod through.  Pinch pleat drapes are hung from the bottom of the ring, meaning that while the window treatment visually starts 5 inches above the window frame, with a thick rod, the curtains may only go 1 inch above the window frame.  This is why it can help to hang your rod first.  

Here is what I did:
Our rods were being ordered, so we didn't have them previous to buying the fabric.  For a traditional look, we planned for the rods to be hung halfway between the top of the window molding and the bottom of the crown molding.  
1 - Measure the distance between the top of the window molding and the bottom of the crown molding, Divide that number in half 
2 - Measure the distance from the top of the window molding to the floor (or where you want the bottom of the drapes to be)
3 - Add those two numbers together
4 - Add 6 inches for the bottom hem and 6 inches for the top casing
5 - Multiply this total panel length by the number of widths you need for one window
6 - Multiply this number by how many windows you have
7 - Divide by 36" to get your yardage of fabric needed

** don't forget to add extra to your total to account for the pattern repeat
*** I also always add 1 yard extra as my 'just-in-case' yard, because you never know.    

Calculate Panel Length
Distance from crown molding to window frame =                 8.50
Divide in half                                                                                 ÷  2
Add distance from window frame to floor =                     +  84.50
Add top casing and bottom hem                                              +  12
Total panel length =                                                         100.75 in.

Calculate Yardage Needed
Total panel length =                                                                100.75
Multiply by the number of widths per window                        x  3
Multiply by the number of windows                                          x  2
Divide by 36 to convert to yards                                              ÷  36
Add a ‘just-in-case’ yard                                                               +  1
TOTAL YARDAGE NEEDED                                                17.79 yds.
** don’t forget to add extra yardage to this total if your fabric has a pattern with a large repeat

My calculated yardage was 17.79 yards, so to keep things simple, I purchased 18 yards (however, if your fabric is expensive, this little bit could be savings).  

Drapery Lining:
Unless you are making shear drapes, I always recommend to line your panels.  This will not only provide a finished look, but it also creates a clean appearance while looking through the window from the outside (better curb appeal) and decreases the visibility of wrong-side threads on some woven fabrics when the sun shines through.  While there are multiple types of lining, I prefer to use a basic 100% cotton lining to be nice on the environment and nice on my wallet.  If you are looking to save energy by decreasing heat from sunlight with your drapes, then you can always go with a blackout lining material.  Not sure if you want to commit to blackout drapes 24/7?  Don't worry, you can always add a blackout panel to the back of your drapes at a later time.  Making the blackout panel removable is also an added bonus for those winter months where you do want the warm sunlight to stream into your dwelling.  

How much lining do you need?
Because lining is inexpensive, the simplest option is to just purchase the same yardage of lining as you calculated for your fabric.  Staying with the same number keeps things easy when you are overwhelmed by all the fabric choices in the fabric store.  However, you will use less lining.  For my client's drapes where we purchased 18 yards of fabric, we needed approximately 16.2 yards of lining.  If we had purchased 16.2 yards of lining instead of 18 yards we would have saved $9.00 (this is not enough savings for me to stress over and confuse the people cutting my fabric).   

Other materials:
For pinch pleat curtains you will also need invisible nylon thread, regular thread, buckram, curtain weights, and curtain hooks.  I will discuss details about these materials in tomorrow's tutorial on how to sew pinch pleat curtains.      

Picking out fabric is the part that can be the most stressful for me because there are so many beautiful fabrics out there, and it is very difficult for me to commit to just one.  I go for the crazy and colorful, while the Drew goes for the streamline and simple -- a point of much debate.  But once the fabric is selected and purchased, it is on to the fun part, and my favorite part, the SEWING!  Tomorrow's sewing post will be full of details everyone should know when sitting down to make your own custom drapes.

xo - megan

DIY Pinch Pleat Drapes - Tutorial Links:

PS.  Still not ready to tackle custom drapes on your own?  I am always happy to create some for you.  Email me for details on commissioned drapery.


  1. A really helpful and interesting post...thank you.

  2. A really interesting post about measuring
    curtains and drapes. Thanks

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  6. Great tutorial! Please clarify...The total width of the panels should be three times the width of the window? So a 60 inch window would require a total of 180 inches, or two 90 inch panels?

  7. Great information. Thanks for providing us such a useful information. Keep up the good work and continue providing us more quality information from time to time. Home Textile

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